Willpower and the writing life

New on my to-read list: Willpower by John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister. I read about the book on Brain Pickings and now I’m going to have to get my own copy.

I’m sure every writer and freelancer depends on willpower. Not to mention every mother. Willpower, or the lack thereof, is why this happens to me on a daily basis:

10 a.m.
Son: Can I have a cookie?
Me: No.

12 p.m.
Son: Can I have a cookie?
Me: No.

2 p.m.
Son: Can I have a cookie?
Me: No.

3 p.m.
Son: Can I have a cookie?
Me: Take it! And get out! Get out of the kitchen!

Three o’clock is not a good willpower hour for me.

Strangely, a lack of willpower only affects my work when I have very little to do. If I have ten e-mails to answer, they all get powered out, one by one. If I have a single e-mail, it languishes in the in-box.

Likewise, if I have a stack of work teetering on my desk, my stomach roils and I can’t sleep until it’s done. A single revision? Much more difficult, willpower-wise.

And then there’s the willpower necessary to face the blank page which, in my opinion, is not willpower at all. It’s the desire to write overpowering the desire to accomplish the functional activities of daily life, and usually involves this sort of mental trickery:

  • I’ll just open the file.
  • I’ll just read what I wrote yesterday.
  • Stop interrupting me. I’m writing!

Does that count as a plan? Would that satisfy the Zeigarnik effect outlined in the Brain Pickings piece? Or could I be accomplishing exponentially more if I just had the right to-do list?

I’ll soon find out. Or I would, if I ever had the willpower to make it through my to-read list.